Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Our World's Joy.






"We must both read and meditate upon the Nativity. If the meditation does not reach the heart, we shall sense no sweetness, nor shall we know what solace for humankind lies in this contemplation. The heart will not laugh nor be merry. As spray does not touch the deep, so mere meditation will not quiet the heart. 'There is such richness and goodness in this Nativity that if we should see and deeply understand, we should be dissolved in perpetual joy. Wherefore Saint Bernard declared there are here three miracles: that God and man should be joined in this Child; that a mother should remain a virgin; that Mary should have such faith as to believe that this mystery would be accomplished in her. The last is not the least of the three. The Virgin birth is a mere trifle for God; that God should become man is a greater miracle; but most amazing of all is it that this maiden should credit the announcement that she, rather than some other virgin, had been chosen to be the mother of God. She did indeed inquire of the angel, "How can these things be?"-and he answered, "Mary, you have asked too high a question for me, but the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you and you will not know yourself how it happens." Had she not believed, she could not have conceived. She held fast to the word of the angel because she had become a new creature. Even so must we be transformed and renewed in heart from day to day. Otherwise Christ is born in vain. This is the word of the prophet: "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given" (Isa. 9:6). This is for us the hardest point, not so much to believe that He is the son of the Virgin and God himself, as to believe that this Son of God is ours: That is where we wilt, but he who does feel it has become another man. Truly it is marvelous in our eyes that God should place a little child in the lap of a virgin and that all our blessedness should lie in him. And this Child belongs to all mankind. God feeds the whole world through a Babe nursing at Mary's breast. This must be our daily exercise : to be transformed into Christ, being nourished by this food. Then will the heart be suffused with all joy and will be strong and confident against every assault".


Martin Luther on the Nativity.


A MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The honorable quest











"Then your voice will call me, and your hands can lead me home,
like a newborn, awed and naked - bare to the bone'.

Carrie Newcomer.



As I sat watching a favorite film tonight, the words of a school hymn echoed through my mind...
When a knight won his spurs, in the stories of old, he was gentle and brave,
he was gallant and bold,
with a shield on his arm and a sword in his hand, for God and for valor he rode through the land.

Frank Martin (The Transporter) may not strike most people at first sight as such a figure, but anyone in doubt should really give Transporter 3 another viewing. Beneath all the contemporary sizzle, adrenaline chases and martial arts, the sensual sparkle and the pointed statements, there lies a very old, in fact medieval tale of honor and valor, of risking all for the love of a maiden (brilliantly portrayed by Natalya Rudakova - a young lady who was literally taken from obscurity for the role). A telling moment comes when the truly discerning Inspector Tarconi tells Frank that he had always suspected that beneath his abrasive exterior, he was a true romantic.
Contrasted with the still moment pictured above (which grants the movie a moment of true romanticism), these brief but candid expressions unmask a little of the true intent here - a modern telling of an ancient tale - one which not only takes me back to childhood, or to some favorite Victorian paintings, but to the Gospel itself.

It would be easy here for me to make numerous parallels between moments in this movie and the realities of our lives and the defining "romance" of the Gospel message, but only one really matters - that within all our fear, pain, anguish and frustration, there is also hope. When we know genuine affection, we touch something that transcends and overwhelms all that is dark and disparaging in our lives - it assures us there is more, much more, beyond the hurt.
This is so because love finds its greatest expression not in our feelings or our present relationships, however deep and true these are, but in the very nature of a person - our maker and our redeemer, a true and deeply needed person of unshakable valor, honor and total integrity. That is why His promises, His deeds, His bond and affection are sure and true, and why the 'story' truly has weight and endures...
There is a better day ahead, when the darkness ends, and the richest love will be evidenced in all things.
That's certainly worth some moments of reflection...

Friday, 19 November 2010

T h e C u r i n g

"The final outcome will be a return to the very first condition,
and the pure, unblemished resurrection,
will be the pure, undestroyed Creation". Man & the Incarnation.

"Behold, I make all things new". Jesus.

It never ceases to amaze me.

When we look at contemporary interpretations of our origins, our teetering continuing existence, and the probable ends of our species meager existence, life all becomes somewhat bleak, gloomy and, if we're honest, all pretty pointless. We can quickly compound that realism if we begin to then unpack the many woes and trails most of us face in our daily hunger to escape the pain often defined as 'the norm' of our short time here,
so, one would hope, when it comes to unpacking the marvel of Christian redemption and rescue,
surely we will find something truly wonderful - a rescue so profound that the trauma of this present agony becomes meaningful, even insignificant, in the light of that marvel.

Apparently not.

For some time now, I've wondered why, in the light of the clear teaching in Romans chapter 8, Christians are not deeply animated regarding the glorious work God is soon to bring about within creation in general.

Genesis begins with the astonishing account of the forming of the heavens and the earth, but this is but the prelude to the masterpiece which is going to appear amongst that order on the day when the full 'glory' (significance) of God's work here begins to become evident on the day of renewal, when the creature (humanity) is raised from the curse of death and creation is freed from its bondage to corruption to share in the new realm of liberation.
Well, I now know why many Christians have no spring in their step about this.
In complete concord with that venomous strain of Gnostic evil which has soured God's living word since Eden, the "way" to read such words is allegorically, not really relating to anything but perhaps some form of final 'spiritual' renewal for the few elect that make it into the distant realm of some ethereal bliss...!

I really wonder if such 'interpretations' take anything spelt out in scripture seriously.
As I've noted several times on my entries here and elsewhere, the only thing which taints and corrupts the goodness of God's handiwork in Creation is the invasion of the malady of sin, and that has truly been remedied by the precious, redeeming work of the bodily death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, so if the only impediment to Creation being 'good' again is removed, why are so many 'teachers' so ready to still expel of it entirely, seeing it as only fit for total destruction?

The only reason for such belief is that the material is inherently seen as entirely at odds with the eternal, but this is certainly untrue. The birth and life of the Lord Himself tells us how much God loves His creation, and the whole work of redemption stems from that unceasing love. It is this work which the book of Romans teaches us bears the most glorious fruit - an order truly rescued from futility and restored to forever glorify its Maker and Savior.

So, the next time you hear 'teaching' which wants to make you look far, far away for some vague, dis-embodied hope of some possibility of rescue, come back to the firm promises of God, made sure in the precious gift of His eternal Son.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

In times of need...

"If the Ten Commandments were not impossible enough, the preaching of Christian behavior, of Christian ethics, of Christian living, can drive a Christian into despairing unbelief. Not happy unbelief. Tragic, despairing, sad unbelief. (It is not unlike the [unhappy] Christian equivalent of “Jack Mormons” – those who finally admit to themselves and others that they can’t live up to the demands of this non-Christian cult’s laws, and excuse themselves from the whole sheebang.) A diet of this stuff from pulpit, from curriculum, from a Christian reading list, can do a work on a Christian that is (at least over the long haul) “faith destroying.”

Dr Rod Rosenbladt - The Gospel for those broken by the Church.

I have been sorely reminded of late just how much we poor souls are in need of the balm of God's unmerited grace in our lives, especially in the context of the 'judgment' (teaching and practice) by those who are no doubt seeking to do good, but actually snuffing out the flax and breaking the reeds.
It is with such a context in mind that I am truly delighted to supply this wonderful link to all who, like me, need the richness of God's abundant grace in Christ alone for their aid...

Dr. Rod Rosenbladt on "The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church" from Faith Lutheran Church on Vimeo.



Saturday, 30 October 2010

For All Saints Day...

With thanks for the Reformation.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Intoxication


"Don't be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit".
Paul to the Ephesians.

A few weeks ago, I found myself calmly and yet eagerly encountering the diversity of a new culture whilst on holiday in Portugal. It's wonderful to have opportunities like that - to truly 'soak up' something of the richness of a place and a people - it truly can help to make you healthy in the sense of discovering more (and thereby affirming the 'rightness') of natural human life. There were plenty of moments - feeling a mild breeze in a glade of village willow trees or the freshness of a day whilst upon a golden beach - when that sense of good indulgence, of vital and healthy interaction struck me, and that has continued to be the case since my return home. Walking into work, for example, this morning amidst some gloriously late mild autumn weather and delighting in the blue skies and the rich layers of colour and texture in the season's splendor once more made me aware of just how good many aspects of our world can be. So often, of course, it's not the natural world that is at fault - it is our abuse of it, or our neglect to 'read' what it is saying to us. We do this on so many levels, particularly with regards to our own bodies, but if we use such gifts well, then life can become a store house of good things.

There is, no doubt, an element of this in what Paul is writing to the Ephesians. Drunkenness is a total folly, because it dis-connects us from the warmth and true value of good wine - we appreciate the deeper value of the world far better when we can employ the good gifts we have been given to properly unwrap and enjoy (and thereby genuinely edify) ourselves and others.
When that inter-action truly begins to arise, then you naturally begin to see the true value, the deep marvel of life, and as you grant it that worth, you cannot help but be thankful to the Lord who gives so many riches.


Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The new blog...


On occasion, I've used an entry here to touch upon or discuss the ramifications of redemption with regards to the body and art. Whilst such reflections, no doubt, will still arise in my postings here from time to time, I'm delighted to announce my new blog, especially for that purpose, which you can visit here:
http://nuditusnaturalis.blogspot.com/

The aim is of the new blog is as stated in the heading
: Seeking to express something of the splendor of God's handiwork in the human form through art and words.
So this clearly will include examining aspects of art and life which may be deemed taboo by some.
The aim here is not to shock or dwell upon the sensational, but to soberly reflect upon the marvels of God's work and to delight in this - to truly gain insights into the value of this realm, so I hope you drop by, enjoy the material posted there, and perhaps leave a comment or an insight that will assist us in the project.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Value of it all

It's my 50th birthday today, and following a week's leave in Portugal, where I've had opportunity to reflect on reaching my half century, on both the frailty and the wonder of life, I wanted to share something to enrich and encourage,
so here's a link to a piece I wrote some time ago that you may find interesting.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

A r r i v a l

"And then, (God's) kingdom will appear in His whole creation,
And then, the devil will have an end,
and sorrow will be lead away with him".

Testament of Moses 10.1

It's no doubt true that much can be said about a generation of people by its aspirations - it's driving "inner" imperatives, displayed in what becomes key to its present and future expression. Listening to the daily reports of the news, it's pretty clear at the present time that one of these key concerns is what might be deemed 'security', not only with regards to living in a 'safe' society, somehow shielded from the bomb and the bullet, but far more immediately, regarding work, home, health and all those daily needs which amount to 'normal' life.
It's pretty clear that whereas those 'external' dangers are still as acute as in my youth (the IRA bombings in London when I worked there spring to mind) these daily matters are fast becoming the realm of greater nightmares.
When government begins speaking quite frankly about a deeper and general impoverishment of not only the present, but the livelihood of future generations (in terms of their lifestyles being less 'comfortable' than our own), then you realize that a serious change is beginning to occur in the world around you, so where is the resolution, the remedy, to such a painful reality - a glowingly insecure world - to be found?

The quote above is from a fictional work dating from the 1st century AD.
In a world filled with many trails, the author, drawing no doubt from the roots of the promises of the ancient faith of his people, pens a passage that would indeed become apt to his times and generation... the appearing of something much greater, much better, than the present tottering 'system'. In that very time came the one, Jesus Christ, who would herald the first 'day', the first true moment of the entry of the Kingdom of God into a world ruined by evil.

Some 2,000 years later, the beginning of that dawning finds us in a strange world, where value is so often placed only in the immediate, and yet, people are often hungry for something deeper - life beyond the hurt and blur of what our present culture can provide.

The day is approaching when God's 'life' will once again become profound and evident in all of His creation, when true liberty, true living can begin - when the suffering, the evil, the insecurity will be over.

Are we living towards that day, finding a mercy, a care in our lives, which marries us to the greatest purpose - to know and share His eternal love?

The longing expressed all those centuries ago still rings deep and true.
A better day is coming, and we can be part of it.


Sunday, 29 August 2010

Thinking it through

It's truly been a week....
From facing possible redundancy again (2nd time in 18 months), to having to cancel a holiday due to a major holiday company going bust, to seeing around a third of my fine art photography vanish from the internet due to the 'Ning' fiasco...
It truly makes you realize (especially when nursing your health through the whole thing) just how frail and fragile the things we think 'just continue' really are. They can literally vanish overnight, and leave you wondering what happened and where to go.

Thankfully, I found many of these trials allowed me to talk quite naturally about my faith and my passion for beauty in my work, and all of the troubles, bar the head cold, are now easing, though it will take time to find new ways to display my art.

I was reminded again today of the superb series, 'Kings', based around the lives of David and Saul - stories which truly say much about how we can respond to life and to God in times of pressure. I featured a video here a while back of scenes from the show - here's the song from that video with the lyrics... they certainly make you think.




Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Beyond Ourselves

"What a work of art is man"
Hamlet

It would leave you astonished.
Imagine meeting someone who had returned home to find their wealth taken, their home vandalized, even their loved ones hurt, and yet they carried on as if everything was normal - the only way to view such behavior would be to conclude that this person had serious problems.

To live in denial of our true condition would be folly, and yet, we do it so very often.

Philosophy and Religion often place us in just such a place. Our home, and more to the point, our very nature's, have been broken and ruined by a diabolical thief, but these means of deceit are employed to assure us that everything is fine - just accept that the state of play is entirely natural, says one voice, or if you work hard enough for long enough, things will be much better in a higher state/future incarnation, says another. Both in essence actually despise the true value and worth of the real world, which was made for a purpose and culture so much richer than these approaches can ever provide.

Christ tells us that the thief of this world has not only blinded us to that purpose, but through the lies so common in so many versions of the same belief, he continues to blind us to the real 'message' of creation and it's true Creator - the one who by His goodness and mercy not only made this world, but through His Son, is at work to bring about it's full renewal and redemption.

The day will come when all men will see and understand the actual value and purpose of this world, not a temporal universe in decay, or a mere quick stop on the way to some ethereal paradise, but the home where creation will live in deep fellowship with God forever.
That truly needs thinking about - if we're not just dust, given to eternal decay, or jailed souls, going away, but truly creatures of an earth meant to continue forever, then how much of the world's philosophy and religion is woefully wide of the mark concerning who we are and what is to come.

God loves this world and the people upon it.
He sent His Son here, to rescue us and it from death and decay.
Christ will return to bring the day of renewal, when all things shall know the reality of what was intended from the beginning.

Will we be ready?
Will the lie be broken, and the light of truth be our delight?
Where are your beliefs holding you?


Sunday, 15 August 2010

The Reflection that Bleeds

“A being so powerful and so full of knowledge as a God who could create the universe, is to our finite minds omnipotent and omniscient, and it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the sufferings of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time?"

Charles Darwin.

No matter where, no matter who, when it comes to the children of Adam, we are all trying to hide from a reflection of our true selves - our real purpose.

Reflecting upon his countless observations, Darwin himself could not escape what Paul defined as the 'knowledge of God' written into creation. He wrote in the Origin of the Species of: "the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist".

The issue which truly troubled him in the light of that reality, as it should do us, was the amount of pain, misery and chillingly cold suffering within the universe, which simply did not appear to marry with the Christian concept of a caring God, leaving him questioning, arguing, protesting against such seemingly blind ugliness and pointless destruction - the tyranny of death.
Will not the judge of all the earth do right? asks the scripture, and as we look upon life which is so tethered to the ruin of physical extinction, often after a long process of decay, it is a matter which must weigh upon us. That very concern, that very response to such a calamity informs us of something - that we require, we expect, something better than such futility, and such a response raises an equally telling issue about ourselves - why, if death and decay are merely natural, would we desire, even demand such a thing in our cold universe?

It is because, even amidst the coldness, as Darwin himself noted, we see something more - a power and a 'glory' which makes our cry for right and an end to the injustice of death even more vital and acute. Though we only glimpse it, that vision 'speaks' of a nature and character above and beyond the futile and the miserable - something which resonates at the deepest point within us, reflected in our need and our desire to be creatures which care, which know that we have a Creator and Father beyond the present pain.

Christianity provides us with two key answers regarding the nature of this present evil.
Evil itself is not eternal - it derives from fallen created creatures - particularly ourselves - and its working is therefore limited to the present age. It will be removed, and creation will be freed from bondage to this futility.
Evil was stripped by the work of God in Christ, especially at the cross. A new age has begun, and the resurrection of Jesus points to the day to come, when such pain and darkness will be gone.

These truths bring the entire issue back to our own doorsteps - to what we see in ourselves when we seek to deny our true nature, reveling in the mire of unbelief, or equally, when we stand, aghast at our ability to love and to see and receive love from others.

Life teaches us, amidst the bruises, to look harder and deeper - the truth may hurt, but it is indeed the fist steps to a deeper healing.


Wednesday, 11 August 2010

It's just unfair... Life.

"I've led such a little life. And even that will be over pretty soon.
I have allowed myself to lead this little life, when inside me there was so much more. And it's all gone unused. And now it never will be.
Why do we get all this life if we don't ever use it? Why do we get all these feelings and dreams and hopes if we don't ever use them? That's where I disappeared to. I got lost in all this unused life."

Shirley Valentine.

It's one of the ways that C S Lewis used to speak of evidence for God -
when we have a genuine need or desire for something (food, drink and the like), it is because
that need is there to be fulfilled, and our inner 'hunger' for a communion with God is that deep and that real. Perhaps that is part of the reason why this life is never as 'big' as at should be, and most certainly why it's scarred with pain and anguish instead of intensely lasting, satisfying joy. To paraphrase Lewis again, its similar to when we are seeking to enjoy nature - we sense its great beauty, but we still find ourselves detached from it, dislocated because we are, indeed, disconnected from the level of inter-action which should be ours.

Lewis was spot on, and that's why there's such a real dissatisfaction with countless 'religious' or 'philosophical' solutions to the problem - they want us to look elsewhere for comfort, for our time here is brief, merely to be transcended in some form.
Is what we are, what we long for really that meaningless?
There are plenty, when you weigh what they have to say, that are actually replying 'yes',
but the Gospel of Jesus Christ sees things very differently...


Christianity directly addresses the 'Shirley Valentine' issue head on. Life is meant to be totally satisfying, totally significant, totally meaningful, but it can't be until it's rejuvenated by truly deriving from its source - a world made whole by God in Christ.

Our bodies fail us. Our minds become weak. Life is quick and fleeting, so reflect upon what that deep inner hunger for more life is really trying to say.
Where is the solution? It's certainly not within ourselves or those who would merely seek to talk it away!

It's at moments like that I'm so grateful to know that my redeemer lives, and that one day, I will stand again clothed in my flesh upon the earth because of Him, and because of Him, I will be able to revel in creation and in life as it was intended to be.
There is something beyond the sorrow, and it can aid us in our time of trouble.

Shirley Valentine's question matters, so think long and hard about where the answer lies...

Sunday, 8 August 2010

H o m e C o m i n g

"Haven't we all thrown our coinage, down the wishing well?"
From 'Double Cure' by Vigilantes of Love.


I came across this today - it pretty much says everything about why Christianity matters.
Enjoy.




Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Significance

"Those that dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined"
The Prophet Isaiah.

It never ceases to amaze me just how wretched and blind we can be.

An artist friend of mine decided to show support on one of his pages for the theory of evolution.
Not something that I see any need for an artist to do, but that's up to him.
He then decided to crown that with support for Richard Dawkins miserably wide of the mark publication (even criticized by his home team), the God Delusion, so I thought it was time to raise a question...

Do we really want to admire someone who profoundly believes we are merely "robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve selfish molecules...we merely exist for this and are nothing more than throwaway machines......in a world of savage, selfish competition, ruthless exploitation and deceit" (The River out of Eden by Richard Dawkins).

To which a total stranger replied that everything is futile, so just live for the moment:
Everything is futile, but it's worth doing. If everything is pointless then put emphasis on enjoyment and spend as little time as possible in the mire, that's a great game

I responded with a comment to the effect is that really all there is,
but it made me stop and consider....
can we really look at life, at the world, at ourselves, and see so little?

Clearly we can - that's why we need G R A C E,
why we need a Savior, and why we so need rescue,

so with that in mind, here's a few images by me which I hope will cause us to recognize the one who has made everything beautiful in its time and placed eternity in our hearts, that we might know Him and truly have life...


Find more videos like this on Miss Online


Sola Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

A n q u i s h

A mistake is to commit a misunderstanding.
Bob Dylan

So, there you have it...
A new skull discovered in Saudi Arabia, dated around 25 million years old, is determined to be a primate (
Saadanius hijazensis) which brought about the evolution of apes and humans.
Meanwhile, after the recent production by Craig Venter
of a synthetic cell, scientists like Jack Szostack are eagerly engaged upon work which forces strands of DNA and RNA to compete in Darwinian struggles for existence whilst experiments like those at the University of Manchester, using raw biochemical pools as a means to re-create the conditions that first formed life, have given many scientists the view that we will be truly creating life ourselves in a few short years.

So that's it then - game over, isn't it?
We know all about life, about how to make it, and that effectively means, as naturalists have been claiming for over a century, that you certainly don't need the divine - just some trial and error combining of the basic building blocks, and you're on your way...

Except, of course, there are a few problems with all of this.
Take the synthetic cell. It's already been admitted that the 'computerized' genetic chain used to devise this was incredibly more simple that the far more complex natural cell that acted as its host. And what about that latest skull fragment?
Well, just place it alongside Geologist Virginia Steen-McIntire's findings in 1966 in Mexico.
The United States Geological Survey Society dated the various tools and spear points she and her team had unearthed by radiometric means to be 250,000 years old - some 235,000 years before modern men were supposed to be in this location.
One is readily accepted a great find because it apparently verifies the consensus theory regarding our development (even though there have been several other such 'finds' which, upon further examination, have been discovered to be no such thing), the other is comprehensively ignored because it argues with convention and therefore is dismissed.

Of course, the thinking goes, there can only really be one way to look at ourselves - as little more than a fluke; animated cosmic dust upon a very tiny ball which just happens to support such a random event - nothing of any lasting consequence, either as individuals or as a species - it's all destined for decay...
but what if another story about us is true, that we are actually skipping the real history of who and what we are in our rush to make a particular "dream" stick?

The Psalmist, so aware of His creator, asks, what are we, that we should even be considered of worth? The New Testament echoes the question, but also posits an answer - we are actually defined now by a single man, a single moment in the history of our race.
The Man is Jesus Christ, and the moment is His life, death and resurrection.

It's not an answer some dare contemplate, because if true, it means there is far more to contemplate beyond our interpretation of bones or biological codes -
it means we were made by One who requires us to know a life defined by more than our present pain, suffering and death - a redeemed creation beyond tarnish and decay.

Life has come, not in an experiment or a theory, but from heaven to earth,
and that life, that light, can crush the darkness of our broken world.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Nothing to say (or just saying nothing)?

The two women watch a full moon rising...

Finn -Oh, god. Look at that.

Aunt Pauline -I never liked full moons. They give people an excuse to do foolish things.

Finn -I'm young, I'm supposed to do foolish things.

Pauline -And spend the rest of your life paying for them.

Finn -Well, it's better than spending the rest of my life wondering what I missed.

Pauline -I'd rather wonder than kick myself.

Finn -Well, I'd rather kick myself.

Pauline (clearly irritated) -Fine. You will end up with a deeply sore backside.


From 'How to Make an American Quilt'.


There used to be a word for it - lunacy; a condition when you abandon sanity because something else (an immediate madness) overtakes you and blurs what really counts. That's what is so excellent about the scene that the above speech comes from - Aunt Pauline knows what life is about, and that it's just stupid to short-cut that.


We can so easily find ourselves entwined in the immediate like the young writer in this story - and that's fine, so long as we have the kind of people she has around her to help us navigate our way through to genuine definition and understanding, but what if that isn't the case?

What if, individually and collectively, we mute and neglect those means which truly foster well being and just wallow in the immediate and the superficial - moon-struck, in all the ways that phrase originally meant?


In a truly clarifying passage about the present, writer Peter Hitchens really sums up the results:

"Orwell feared those who would ban books. Huxley feared that there would be no reason to ban - there would simply be no one interested in reading them. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared a time which would give us so much that we would become reduced to passivity or egoism. Orwell feared the truth would be withheld. Huxley feared that truth would become drowned amidst an ocean of irrelevance".


Like that horrifying moment in H G Wells', "The Time Machine", when the scientist from the past discovers that an entire culture - the Eloi - are literally being preyed upon by others - the Morlocks - so our times have become overcome by the liquefaction of Huxley's definition of lunacy - the "drip, drip" of a realm which makes so much of the immediate at the expense of the imperative.

We rake at the moon in countless distractions, and all too often, there are no voices of trust and actual understanding to talk us off the edge, or bluntly wake us to the folly often paraded as 'good'.


What poison has become the succor of our times? How many would, in effect, remain asleep in a burning house, unaware of danger?


How dreadful it is, noted Jesus, when a man comes to call light darkness, and darkness, light -

how great that peril will be!


We need more Aunt Pauline's in our times - maybe then, we'll spend a little less time craving the dimness of the night, and encounter the glory of the sunlight...

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Heaven's Open

"He also, in the end of times . . . became a man among men,
visible and tangible,
in order to abolish death and bring to light life,
and bring about the communion of God and man".

From a creed of Irenaeus of Lyons

I've had a quote at the start of one of my Photographic art portfolios for some time now:
"The motivation behind creation..is to give of ourselves. Creation is the highest act of giving".
The statement is from a book by William Dembski, and like Irenaeus' words of nearly twenty centuries ago, it makes us look at the 'bigger picture'.

I find that particularly so when I'm creative 'mode' - that's when Dembski's words ring so true.
If I am not seeking to truly connect to my subject in a manner that isn't really giving creatively, then I find I don't get very much back. Creating and probably just enjoying art means that a deep inter-action is under way - one which usually engages us, heart and soul.

And that brings us back to Christ and the 'big picture' of creation as a whole. The Lord made all things good for a very crucial reason - to express Himself...to give Himself to the world and life which He had made. Corruption often bleeds into every corner of our current existence and stains the glory of that reality, but creativity can often cause us to snatch a glint, or a brief sniff of this great and underlying truth so clearly declared in the Gospel, as expressed in the above creed.

The day approaches when of all of life will be replete in such artistry.




Thursday, 10 June 2010

What it's really all about...

Now, we see dimly, like a reflection in a mirror,
but the day comes when there will be total clarity,
Now, we know only in part,
but then we shall know fully,
for love never ends -
all that is partial fades,
but perfection will come,
for the greatest is love.

Paul - 1 Corinthians 13.

How do you make sense of this crazy, messed up world?
What is it that makes life worth living, when you see the sheer ugliness we not only encounter,
but can generate from our own hearts?
When you see a tragedy like the shootings in Cumbria last week, how do people find the strength to get out of bed in the mornings?

The brilliant 20th century physicist, Richard Feynman, who had some pretty genius ideas in his life, said something major in a letter to a friend:
"Tell your son to stop trying to fill your head with science — for to fill your heart with love is enough".

When you see the pain of our world touched by love, then even pain becomes worthwhile.

The message of Christianity is essentially about that - God has come to heal a broken world, not through rules and regulations, but through totally unmerited love.
Here's a new song by Amy Grant which touches on the value of such love in our darkest moments...



Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Giving it all away...

"We are creatures that are totally alone,
precariously living upon a realm of myths - our fabricated realities".

Andrew Marr -BBC radio.

Edmund Burke famously once said that the only thing needed for evil to prosper is good men to do nothing, but as we touched on in a recent post, there are no good men, so evil is easily and often done, especially by those who deem it good to define our present alienated condition as the only reality we can know.

In His ministry amongst us, Jesus spoke of the true purpose of evil - like a thief, it comes amongst us to steal our actual identity, kill our longings to be more than strange, half-life creatures of the night, to destroy us, body and soul, by incarcerating us in the lie that we are no more that a bag of animated dust, limited to a brief moment, then gone.

Evil, a friend used to say, is de-personalization...defining ourselves in such a way that, in effect, we have no value beyond the moment - the thoughts and appetites that pertain to this instant. Christ tells us something very different. We are fallen, lost, broken and corrupted children, victimized and plagued by a lie that we can become 'free' in our rebellion by being less than we are - the heirs of a realm provided by a Creator who has entered into our very meaninglessness in order to rescue us from our terrifying peril, at a great cost to Himself.

The real fear of redemption, I sometimes think, is not that there is a God, or that He loves us so deeply, but that it carries such a great 'weight' of recognition - that we mere shadows of humanity were made and delivered for so much more, and the broken creatures we now are cannot but wail at but a glimpse of such vision - better to order and discipline ourselves in misery and pain, to inhabit the realm of non-being - the sphere of evil.

The call of Christ challenges our reality. It decrees such usurpation cannot last...
That the day approaches when all creation will once more be granted its full worth.
Only His renewing mercy can clothe us well for such a day.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Buried within the bruises.

"Deprived of older loyalties, tribal sensations of a 'generation' -
the fashions, the trends, the propensity to the illicit - becomes the badge of the day".

Peter Hitchens - Born Yesterday.

How do you speak to these "interesting" times in a way which actually 'says' something about the truth and the human condition?
I often find moments in Science Fiction shows which resonate, but aside from the occasional block-buster, you need something a little more universal to appeal to most people,
but this certainly says you can use media well.

Recently, a friend introduced me to a 2009 American TV production which ticked the boxes and showed just how contemporary the truth can be.
Based around the Biblical story of David and Saul, if somewhat dramatized, Kings really shows us that aside from driving cars rather than riding chariots, our condition and needs as people haven't changed at all from those times.

There are way too many excellent scenes in this production to select the best, but there won't be many who can watch the first few episodes and not identify with the trials and triumphs of the characters - it is simply compelling viewing, which, in my own case, has lead to several deep conversations already - and I'm only half way through the season so far. This manner of drama really asks us to think about ourselves - how we view who we are, what we aspire to and, most important of all, if such a state is opening or closing us to deeper realities.

I highly recommend seeing this if you get the chance... it will get you thinking.



Sunday, 16 May 2010

Beyond the noise and fury...

Larry Norman once wrote some telling lyrics...
"I've been shot down, kicked around,
some people scandalize my name,
but here I am, talking about Jesus just the same"

In a day when the message of Jesus Christ is very much, as always, the target
of derision and 're-interpretation', here's a reminder of what it's really all about...


Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Present Danger?

"The Bible clearly testifies of numerous supernatural events,
and if God doesn't over-rule the natural, we have to throw the book away,
and its God...
We would have to eliminate our belief in all of Gods miracles, including the resurrection,
in which case, we might as well reject the message of Christianity altogether".

Chris Tiegreen - Love, power and a whole lot of evil.


Back in the mid-1990's, journalist John Horgan produced an intriguing work entitled The End of Science, in which he postulated that we were reaching the limits, empirically, of what science could actually tell us about a vast range of observations, and that the 'gap' left would therefore have to be filled by 'detail' which some observers rightly have noted would temper certain theories as immune to falsification - in reality, leaving these approaches redundant, because their assertions do not really explain anything.

It's not the first time humanity has found itself here. The 'whole' world view our culture generally espouses today bears traits of commonality to those propounded in some of the early Greek states, as does the amount of confidence invested by many in such ideas, but perhaps the most telling thing about all this for me is the impact such suppositions have upon many who apparently express 'christian' beliefs which seek to adapt to these assumptions.

Take this morning, for example - a television discussion on whether we are born good or evil.
The majority present who were 'religious' ('christian', Muslim, and Hindu) held we are born good, seeking to express this in a fashion which didn't cause any real opposition to atheists, who saw such matters as derived in a small way through genes, but predominantly through learning. What was clear was they all saw 'traditional' Christian belief - that we are born with corruption - as wrong and entirely irrelevant - the important thing was to live liberated and without any guilt.

I truly worry when Christians start teaching me that 'what Adam did doesn't matter' - that, in effect, we were not 'conceived in sin', but I'm no longer really surprised. After all, the Eden record, in this view, is just a story, like the Creation or Noah's flood and the tower of Babel, the offering of Issac or the Exodus - these things didn't really happen... they're just what was written down (we're not sure by whom) in 'special language' to tell us our lives mean... something.

I understand the logic. For the world to be "safe" to our natural way of navigating it, there just cannot be any real place for the miraculous - for a God who acts directly in our world - any notion of that kind would have to entirely conform to a spirituality that would be to 'our' benefit (how we see and understand things now). Christianity actually unseats us there.

How can God fashion something complex as our universe in six days, or then destroy the earth bar what He held safe through a great flood? Why make a place as perfect as Eden and allow such a location as the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to be visited by the Serpent?
Why demand of Abraham the life of his son? These are deep questions, which 'speak' of far more going on than what is defined by science, so they are certainly not going to be faced well by a modern approach which, like that of the Epicureans, views such 'history' as impossible, because naturalism has no place for the miraculous or the non-material in the manner the Bible speaks of it.

The God who caused the light to shine out from the darkness, notes Paul, is the same God who causes the light of the knowledge, the true significance, of God, to shine into us through the truth concerning Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Christianity is inherently marked and defined by this - there is simply is no other 'message' of value, for this alone gets to the very core of our reality, not only in the 'here and now', but regarding our origin, our departure from that realm, and how all creation will be returned to it.

We cannot escape what the New Testament defines as 'the truth that is in Jesus Christ'.
The time has come, for us to face this.








Sunday, 2 May 2010

It's not what it looks like...but it's exactly how it works.

Talking to a friend I turned around,
and found a total stranger,
hiding out for safety's sake I found,
I'd put myself in danger...

I saw somebody earning more and more,
and he was getting poorer,
it seems the more things that you know,
the less you can be sure of.

From Dancing in the Shadows by After the Fire.

Human Beings.

We are the epitome of spin.
I've watched, often with frustration, these past few weeks, as British politicians have employed
lashings of craft and 'smoothiness" to expertly weave and dodge the public on the crucially painful questions of what life is really going to be like as one of the darkest economic periods truly begins to bite in the next few years (yes, that's right - the reality of the recession hasn't even begun yet). Deftly poised on their proverbial pin-heads, the leaders of the main parties would have left the pied piper of Hamlin redundant, until this week, when an unguarded moment disrobed the Prime Minister. The mask dropped, and we saw what really goes on.

Of course, none of this is new - I've had a good dose of the West Wing over the past few months - we can 'look' into the machinations if we so choose. What amazes me is that we so often choose not to, and not just about politics. It's common for us to embrace the naive notion that everything tomorrow will just carry on like it did today - that everything will be fine, but it really isn't so. Scratch the surface just a little, and there's a broken, wounded world right here - it's bleeding to death, and applying the trite responses wheeled out by politicians and the like just won't fix it - or you.

Another blog this week raised an interesting question.
In a traumatic situation, if someone asked you "Why do you believe in God", what would you say?

I know that part of the answer is what God reveals to us about ourselves - that we are broken, and we don't like to go there. We equally live in a world which scurries away from seeing humanity where it should be - "crowned" with a particular 'weight' (significance), but beneath the domain of heaven.

For the last 30 years (at least), I've lived in a society where 'freedom' has been defined by some very narrow ideas which derived from Game Theory and have been woven into every field of policy in America and the UK, whatever the political stripe. This is still the case, but such issues are just not touched upon, even in the heart of an election.

Larry Norman said it right:
you say all men are equal all men are brothers
then why are the rich more equal than others
don't ask me for the answer I've only got one
that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son

The Great American Novel.

If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed.


Monday, 19 April 2010

The Borderline

"love dares you to care for
the people on the edge of the night".
From the song, Under Pressure by David Bowie and Queen.

Strange times.
I heard today how an anti-theist is challenging religious folk to show a particular kind of 'evidence' to thereby validate the premise that God could exist. It brought to mind a statement by C S Lewis - "God is the only witness who has to remain silent until proven guilty".

The uncomfortable truth, of course, is that He does not remain silent.

Walking home from work today, some favorite tunes playing on my CD as I imbibed the splendor of a spring afternoon, the world bursting into life in gorgeous displays of colour and fragrance - it made me realize just how squashed human existence has become, when apparently people are fortunate to be happy for a maximum of eight seconds a day!

We're a broken people, but there's still a world, however hard we've scratched to de-face it, which shouts at us regarding the glory of our maker - that's why the bark of the materialist has no bite - it denies the entire purpose of the glory which surrounds and penetrates our deepest reflections when we allow it do so. They speak of a Creator's power and marvelous provision, and a longing, a yearning, for a brighter day...

The darkness and the pain are terribly real, but the light is radiating on the horizon,
from just across the border.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Seeing Faith

"These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, made it clear that they were looking for a better homeland".
Hebrews 11:13 & 14.


"If only in this life we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied
but in fact Christ has been raised from death, the first fruits of those who have died".
1 Corinthians 15: 19 & 20.

In the early 1500's, at a monastery hospital in Isenheim which cared for the incurable, Mattias Grunewald created two altarpiece images for the aid of the dying, one of the crucifixion, showing Christ as the bearer of our diseases, and one of the resurrection, conveying that something wonderful was beyond this present suffering:



















It poignantly speaks to the question which would dominate that era - "how can I be saved?", one that often seems strange to many of the popular trends and views of our age, but as we look at these images and consider our own mortality, we can begin to see afresh that the faith which inspires such passionate art and deep considerations is not that foreign or alien at all - it is as necessary as our next breath, and something which actually causes us to become troubled, to question, when we become too at ease with our place in the world.

The 16th century would become a harbinger for both the necessity and the vitality of such issues, especially in the work of Martin Luther.
Luther, as one scholar notes, became an 'ardent proponent of the sacred, spiritual nature of the material', not just because Creation was the good handiwork of God, but because it was the 'Unique means of God's intimate presence in the world - the means of God's redemptive and justifying activity" (Hendel - Luther's radical Incarnational perspective). Whilst this allowed Luther to renew an Apostolic approach to ministry (in use of both the Word and the Sacraments), it also informed a fresh approach towards faith and art.

The first common German Bible, translated by Luther, included numerous woodcuts by Lucas Cranach (the Elder), but as the genuine tangibility of faith was no longer defined merely by 'religious' practices, so all of life itself became the purview of artists who drew from faith in the redemptive work of God amidst creation, and thereby gave birth to a new realism in many schools and movements which arose across Europe.


















By truly looking at the beauty of the created order, artists were seeking to make statements about the true 'weight' of these things, by seeing them inherently as good, in spite of the ruin of the fall, for just as they had been made good by God, they were equally redeemed by Christ, and therefore, the richness of common life becomes a foretaste of the splendour of resurrection life.

In his masterful depiction of God's creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, Michelangelo challenges us with revelation of God's character, not remote from us, but right here - the true source of all life and living, of all care and renewal, of all beauty, in it's deepest expression.

On a day when, by such faith, we can look to a crucial reality of our history - that Jesus rose bodily from the tomb - that can indeed be the well-spring that heals us in life, death, and the new day which is fast approaching.

(Images: Luther preaches Christ by Cranach, The Resurrected Christ by
Grunewald, Venus by Cranach).

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Seeing Straight

We're dreamers in castles made of sand,
The road to Eden's overgrown,
Don't you sometimes wish your heart was made of stone.

Cher - Heart of Stone

I seem to be only like a boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself by every now and then only finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay still undiscovered before me”.

Issac Newton.


Hindsight.
It's often spoken of as a wonderful thing, which has often struck me as odd.
In most cases, to 'edit' another famous phrase, another statement would seem to apply -
"If history teaches us anything, it teaches us that we learn nothing to change history".

And why should it not be so?
Gaia enthusiast James Lovelock spoke candidly on British radio this week regarding the issue of global warming, noting that just as, of necessity, we 'pulled the hammer' (caused what is currently deemed climate change by our actions), so we will have to live with whatever comes next, and to seek to propound the notion that we can just resource our way out of such a crisis, somehow turn back the clock, is plain nonsense.

The thing is broken, and no amount of hindsight or even sober thinking is going to change things - we all eat due to sweat and toil, bruised by the thorns of briers of this life, until death claims us,
so why not just forget the past, live for the moment, and 'burn out rather than fade away'?

As an artist, I know well how the desire to somehow draw alongside the deep, profound undercurrent of reality resonates. Like Newton on his beach, holding the few things gathered in a lifetime, I can look with wonder at the future, because there are 'pointers' in what's discovered about who and what we are, and these truly make a person both tremble and laugh at their very core.

On the night of His betrayal, Jesus used a very simple, common moment in a meal to announce the astonishing event that was about to happen. Through what He was about to do and undergo for us, what seemed totally beyond repair was about to be eternally fixed - God would once again 'tabernacle' with humanity, not just on brief moments, or tents, or via other means of mediation, but by living with us in our decimated world, redeeming our very death-struck lives and making us ready for the great age that is closing - a world made anew by Christ.

Hindsight, then, is good, at least in one context - when it placards how we were created, how we fell from there, and how we were rescued from that plight.

Like some of the disciples, no doubt, who dined with Jesus that very night, I often don't understand the mechanics of how the cycle can be broken amidst all the overgrowth, the dreamers in castles, the sheer callousness we can convey,
but Easter Sunday is close by, and after the desolation of the garden, of Good Friday,
it tells me that I can look beyond the here and now,
and to do so isn't pie in the sky.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Easter Thinking


"If our flesh is not renewed, then the Lord has not actually redeemed us with His life and death; then the Eucharistic cup does not make us sharers in His blood, and the broken bread, sharers in His body.
The heart of the truth is that the Word of God actually became flesh, and it was with that body, He actually redeemed us in His life, death and resurrection. As Paul puts it, 'In Him, though His blood, we have been redeemed".
Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd century Christian theologian).


With many thanks to Kayceeus for permission to use her image.

Isn't it lovely, wrote an artist friend to me today, to sense the regenerative power of Spring in the air again?
We all know there's something pretty amazing about this time of year - the days becoming longer, warmer, the earth bringing forth a plethora of colour and richness. Everything speaks of a fresh encounter with the marvel of life, which breaks out from the coldness and seemingly iron grip of winter. It's not much of surprise, then, that many ancient religions cycled around the 'magic' of nature's fertility, but as the wise Epimenides pointed out to the Athenian Greeks around 600 BC, to reside at such a level is to stay in ignorance of the One behind such marvels.
The 'natural' victory of life over death we see creation play out every year whispers loudly concerning a deep reality at the heart of things - death is a usurper, preying upon our current demeaned "life", but things were and will be very different.

The heart of Christianity is an event that truly staggers us. The God who made us was not prepared to leave us in a state of futility and destruction when we walked away from His care, but this God Himself came to us, became as us, to suffer, to draw the sting of sin and death, to overcome these, and to give us a new life as real as the renewal of spring.

C S Lewis puts this so well - a quote which came swiftly to mind when I viewed the image above this morning:

"One has the image of a diver, stripping off layer after layer until naked,
going down through the green, sunlit water into the pitch black, cold, freezing depths,
down, to the very mud and slime,
and then, up again, lungs almost bursting, breaking back into the sunshine,
holding the dripping thing taken from the depths...
The thing is us, but with it, all of nature - the redeemed creation"

(The Grand Miracle).


As the flowers bloom, and the beauty clothes our world, that's worth thinking about...



Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Getting it...


"It's not the Sun up in the sky.... It's the Son of God".
Uhura - Bread & Circuses.


A faith that is based on love - revealed by God's Son,
that enables unity that transforms the world....

James T Kirk is right - won't it be wonderful to see that come about in it's entirety?


Friday, 12 March 2010

Twixt the Pain and the Passion

Faith, which springs from charity is so very necessary to this present life,
that without it, we cannot continue in the world". Martin Luther




Last summer, amidst some very sorrowful weather, the gray days were suddenly warmed
when a new drama was shown on national television. Whilst providing a somewhat embroidered rendition of its subject, it spoke loudly of how, amidst the mess and chaos of this world, we can all be touched by the unmistakable, and on occasion overwhelming beauty and grace which we see woven into so much, especially amidst the pain and passion of our lives.

This superb video, taken from images from the drama and focusing on one strand of the story, which was certainly about the great need for redemption, reflects something of the delight of this production.

Desperate Romantics, which reveled in the highs and lows of the Pre-Raphelite artists, resonated deeply regarding the roots of my own artistic inspiration, and spoke well of how, amidst my work as a photographer now, artists are commonly seeking the deeper gems.

Christ, in His nature and work, shows the world how faith, working through love, transforms the tatters of our splintered existence to radiate something restored and whole - as with the light seen through a rainbow. Perhaps our gaze is still often small, only seeing a reflection of this, in a puddle on the ground, but once that 'rainbow' is there, the promise of a day when our sight is clear, our heads look up, is certain and sure.

Beauty can be a balm to our weary journey, when true faith and love are at home in our souls.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

ears to hear, eyes to see.

"The God who made the world and everything in it...He Himself gave to mankind life and breath and all we see". Acts 17:24.

Why is it that 'religion' can be little more than candy floss, which is employed for all the wrong reasons, to cover the cracks?

I was reading a book today, supposedly giving a 'christian' insight into beauty. The introduction jogged along about our living 'between' awakening and sleep (birth and death), and how we found our ground of meaning, our shelter, here, by observing beauty, which granted some insight to the divine - the beauty of God. The author referred to the ancients, especially the Greeks, as an example of that, but there's the problem.

The Greeks certainly had a notion of the order of things, and sought to emulate that in their religion and art, but it was a beauty which alienated, not genuinely esteemed the value of the world. Women were viewed as an ultimate embodiment of evil - the physical incarnation of all that was vile- the physical world itself, and artists were only tolerated because of their skills to express the true goal - to step beyond the immediate to the spiritual perfection beyond.
It amazes me just how much Christian spirituality still hankers after this dualistic nightmare, but Paul before the Greeks speaks of a very different beauty - a God who works with the earth, and redeems only by the salvation of all He has made, for this is His work.

Genuine truth and beauty can never be divorced from the 'common' life we have been given - the bestowal of charisma, notes Paul, to all men because of God's grace. It is amidst the bare breath, the whole of life that we are to see something of His work, not merely in some ecstatic moment of gnostic transport.

Beauty of any import is found here, amidst the trial and the joy.
Philosophy or religion may wish us to divorce God from such a vision, but life teaches us differently.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Beyond these small conceits...

"Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are religious".
Paul at Mars Hill -Acts 17:22.

It's always popular to adhere to what is commonly termed as "spirituality" - the notion that we genuinely enrich ourselves and others by ascribing to the 'good' aspects of our humanity... employing our virtue or morality, perhaps ascribing to some (not to determined) perception of the divine - deism or gnosticism perhaps, but in truth ascribing to something which never totally or radically impinges upon the here and now, in the 'lifestyle choices', the compass of our own suppositions on the nature of things.

In the week before His death, Jesus challenged those who held a similar status quo in Jerusalem,
telling the people that these 'spiritual' folk were truly to be avoided for there was no genuine substance to their words or deeds - they went through the motions, but there was nothing but a void, a total lack of genuine spiritual insight and maturity at the heart of who they were and what they did.

In the same fashion, Paul comes before the 'learning' of his age, and finds it wanting. Why?
Because it does not address aright the basic questions of who and what we are - of how we were made and why we now have a propensity to a 'spirituality' that is crooked. It also fails to understand that the world in which we live is not a 'closed' system, but one often touched and thereby altered by the work of God.

The same man, notes Paul to the Athenians, that God raised from death, calls us to change, for there will be a day when our race will be judged by Him. Jesus Christ calls us to move beyond the shallowness of what is deemed 'right' - spiritual, by us, to a life replete with the significance God has given.

The day is approaching when God breathes new life into all He has made and redeemed. Does our 'vision', our first steps into spirituality begin to furnish us for the 'largeness', the totality of that reality, or actually diminish and negate the true 'glory' of His handiwork?

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Amidst the lovers and the mourners


"Are you alive ?"
Caprica 6 - Battlestar Galactica

Almost a decade ago, my wife and I ended our twenty years of living in the South Eastern counties of England with a trip to the movies to see the splendid Bicentennial Man. The film is filled with memorable moments, but what makes this tale resonate so deeply is the desire, the journey, of the central character, Andrew, from being an oddity as a robot, to fulfilling his actual potential by becoming fully human.
Through the traumas of the Martin family that originally purchases, then adopts, and finally marries this person, we gain an insight into the 'natural' human condition - one marked by pain, suffering and death, interwoven with the precious richness of love, communion and intimacy.
It is as Andrew begins to imbibe both the beauties and tragedies of our kind for himself, that his goal becomes singular - to be one of us, fully human, even to the point of death.

I left the cinema that evening deeply moved, reminded not only of the wonder of our lives, but also reflecting upon the one who came as a man and truly tasted death for us all.

I had no idea at that time, as life changed from what it had been for the two principal decades of my adult life, that Kay and I were about to be taken by currents which would change everything - that I would loose her to cancer within a few short years, but I often think about how that film, and other events that followed, sought to impress the theological weave of creation, fall and redemption I had become aware of in the 90's, into the very fabric of everyday life - Christ, like Andrew in the film, would be there to not simply witness but profoundly accompany us through those days so pierced with joy and pain.

There is a certain excitement to sharing the truths that underlie our faith when unwrapping them properly for the first time - a little like children at Christmas - but that is very different to the moments when God truly becomes the Paraclete upon the threshing floor of experience.
The realities with which we have to do impinge upon our breath, our bones, as well as our thoughts and deeds.

Christianity teaches us well; much of life now must necessarily remain unfinished - sin and death prevent completion, but the love He sheds abroad within our failing hearts is a sure and certain investment of what will come to be.
The dreams, the joys, the ardent promises that mark our times, that define our intent, are now broken pieces amidst a pavement cracked by the woes that wound, and the fury of doubt and fear which assault and assail us with the taunt of physical death. The darkness, indeed, is often palpable, and within ourselves, there is no aid, but there is more to be said, even before the of very claim of death.

Amidst the inspired words of Solomon. we find a mercy which will bind the broken heart -
Such waters cannot quench your love. These floods cannot drown it.
There is a love which is stronger than death.

Andrew's story ends in death, as, naturally, all ours would as well, but the true man, the 'proper' man who came from heaven has conquered death itself in His own death, and His life truly allows us to become the people of a renewed, restored creation.

The future not only of this world, but of the Godhead itself, will be expressed in a love that has redeemed heaven and earth. There, then, is something that ultimately empties of all woe, and qualifies in fact, all our present trials, making them truly of value, and opening the door to becoming fully ourselves, through His love.
There is a better day, a better ending, and it is found in the God who reconciles by love.



Thursday, 14 January 2010

Seeing True

"That's the day I realized that there's this entire life behind things...this incredibly benevolent force... Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it".

Ricky Fitts - American Beauty.

I was very interested to learn this week that some of those who had seen the stunning movie Avatar, had been feeling greatly troubled, and in some cases, suicidal, as a result, seeking to equate such wonder with the pain of our own world.

One viewer wrote: "I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed ... gray. It was like my whole life, everything I've done and worked for, lost its meaning...(we) live in a dying world".

This rings true to something I have been reflecting about for sometime.

In 1 Kings chapter 10, we read of the royal visit of a Queen to the court of the great King, Solomon. This state visit occurred because news about the wonder of Solomon's great city had traveled across the ancient world, and people wanted to see such a spectacle first hand.
The impact of not only the buildings and wealth, but the wisdom this man had gained was palpable. Not unlike those so deeply struck by the film, the Queen herself was overwhelmed by the unique and distinct splendor of this place, which created genuine happiness in all of those who lived within its scope.

I've often wondered if the reaction of the Queen was in some sense a seed of inspiration for one of Solomon's own marvelous works - the poetry of devotion found in his Song of Songs, but one thing is for certain, the encounter with such beauty is both overwhelming and life-changing.

Perhaps it is one of the great sorrows of our times - that we very often cannot 'see' beauty in the fashion that many, like the astute Queen of Sheba, have done in times past. The encouraging gem gleaned from the Avatar example is that beauty can still overwhelm us, and thereby open our lives to a far richer and deeper reality woven into the fabric of our currently broken world.

There was a moment in the life of Jesus where His disciples were allowed to see Him transfigured, expressing something of His true glory and majesty to them. The result was immediate - they wanted to stay in that spot, in that moment, for the rest of their lives. I've often found when I'm confronted with the real Jesus of the Gospels, there is a two-fold response: a drawing that resonates in the deepest part of my soul, and a realization that I am not worthy of the wonder of the pure character of this Man - God's beloved Son. When we truly confront Jesus Christ, we encounter something which leaves that ancient Queen's encounter plain in comparison, for as Paul declares, all the marvel and beauty of creation is made and sustained by Him.

This world, even amidst all it's trouble, often furnishes us with moments of striking clarity, where we glance upon that deeper realm, which this earth, this tent of flesh we inhabit, is meant to know, meant to share, meant to make us truly whole.

If inspired by the beauty which surrounds us, rest a while beneath the shade of the Gospels, and learn of this one that the whole world has been talking about for some 2,000 years. Truly, there is a beauty here to make us all what we were intended to be.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

And that's because...

"Sin is primarily located...in our spiritual pretensions and ambitions. It is our god-like aspirations which destroy our life here and seduce us to make life miserable for our fellow man". Gerhard Forde - Where God Meets Man.

It's always good when this time of year unwraps something to get you thinking.
It happened twice for me this season.

The second occasion was watching James Cameron's new epic, Avatar, which I'll come to shortly,
but the first was watching a TV documentary entitled 'Tsunami - where was God?'
Visiting that still wrecked part of the world where this nightmare disaster struck, the presenter sought to look at the horror through Muslim, Hindu, Catholic and Buddhist eyes and answer the question if there is a God, why does He allow such dreadful events.
It's a question that my Father used to ask me in my teens when I was called by Christ all the time - he was never happy with my answers! - but this program at least tried to go further, asking about the nature of evil itself and why evil exists in our world.

The responses, in general, were pretty passive and deterministic - life is the way it is, it's just God's will, or things are the best they can be, so until something better comes along (paradise, nirvana, or the like), we just have to knuckle down, carry the pain, and get on with it.
Human ideology in general has little choice here, whether that's expressed religiously or not, but when 'Christians' turn around and say that's essentially all they have to say as well, that's a serious cause for concern!

The Biblical view is that there is a very key reason why our world is in this state, and it's wholly related to human rebellion. That reason is actually so key, in fact, that Paul informs us that the whole of creation, the very fabric of nature, has been subject to futility, to decay, as a consequence, so this is most certainly NOT how the world was made, or how things should be.
Our evil as a race lies behind the problem - nothing more, nothing less.
It simply won't do for 'Christian' theologians or scientists to stand up and say to look at the book of Genesis as history is folly - The writers of the New Testament would then be fools, and the entire structure of historical Christianity would be scuttled beyond salvage.
We may face a time when the Biblical understanding is certainly being challenged in a comprehensive fashion, but it remarkable how quickly our so-called 'wisdom' about who and what we are can be changed.

Back in the 1990's, Egyptologist Dr David Rohl presented a new case for much of Biblical history which challenged the classical understanding of ancient history and introduced an stunning new chronology for our past. Over a decade later, whilst still controversial, his approach had now been expanded not only to include the history of the Old Testament, but of the ancient world as a whole in a very comprehensive fashion - all because one man started asking very pertinent questions about the 'established thinking' (His second book, Legend, also gives a key pointer as to why our 'reading' of earth's past itself may be in trouble).
The scriptures leave no doubt that when we're talking about such matters, we are dealing with history.

There's probably another reason that the concept of human rebellion being behind our current state is not popular.
In the movie, Avatar, we're presented with a world which, whilst it has it dangers, is actually viewed as whole by the natives - a symbiosis of consciousness in all living things which equates to the divine - a harmony broken by the arrival (surprise, surprise) of humanity.
What is interesting here is that there are parallels to some of the "Gaia" type thinking that underlies some of the approaches to the issue of climate change - it's our world, we are breaking it, and we can and will fix it. Of course, it's never as easy as we think, and in the movie, there has to be a redemptive work to heal the broken world of Pandora, just as for our earth, the answer to our evil, our detachment, our blindness, must come from outside of ourselves.
"Grace", notes Forde, "saves nature not by adding to it, or by raising it to some higher level, but by allowing it to be, once again, what it was intended to be - the good creation of His handiwork".

The aim and intention is not some human utopia, where we tame and master the world to our liking, but the splendor of all things truly expressed in a manner that reveals the profound 'weight' and majesty of His nature.

As I watched the movie, I marveled at the wonder of the realm created before my eyes, and pondered on the work that is to come - when all will be made new.
In this world where evil and its results are so apparent, we need to recognize the God at work through such trial - the depths of the cross - to herald the wonder that approaches.